DARLINGTON, S.C. – With a dominant Denny Hamlin out of contention after a loose wheel with 96 laps to go, the 2023 Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was shaping up to be a battle between Tyler Reddick and Kevin Harvick as the laps ticked down.
Reddick started third and had led 90 laps on the night, but Harvick – who started seventh and had slowly crept into the top five as the night went on – was hounding the No. 45’s rear bumper for the lead as the duo dealt with lapped traffic in the middle of the final stage.
With just under 60 laps remaining in the race, the field was gearing up for another round of green-flag pit stops. Harvick was the first of the two to pit, and just as the No. 4 was rounding the apron to cross the commitment line, the lapped car of Ryan Newman spun as Reddick slowed to make a late attempt onto pit road.
Harvick did not reach the line before the caution came out. He would’ve escaped penalty had he driven down pit road without stopping for service, but the No. 4 team was hit with a closed pit penalty as the crew performed the pit stop.
Harvick was unable to be reached for comment after the race, but he pleaded his case on the radio once he heard news of the penalty.
The penalty dropped Harvick from second to the tail end of the field in 22nd, and he was only able to drive up to 19th by the time the checkered waved on lap 367. What could’ve been a third Southern 500 triumph and a farewell-season win for Harvick instead ended in heartbreaking fashion.
Reddick, who finished second behind race-winner Kyle Larson, said that he slowed to make it to pit road before realizing that he wasn’t going to make it.
“I was trying to make it to pit road, I missed it and I kind of took back off,” Reddick said. “And unfortunately, I don’t think Ryan [Newman] had anywhere to go, and yeah, he spun out.”
Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief, offered his thoughts on Reddick’s late attempt to reach pit road after the race.
“Yeah, I mean, it all happened because the No. 45 tried to do something he shouldn’t have,” Childers said. “I’ve been in Billy [Scott’s] (No. 45 crew chief) shoes too, and you’re trying to do everything that you can to not lose the race at that point.
“At that point, you got to run one more lap and not just stop in the middle of the racetrack. That part’s the more disappointing thing, but I also see the reasoning and why he did it and all that. It’s part of racing. I hate that it happened because we had a strong car and could[‘ve] should[‘ve].”
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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